Tom Sermanni

What to watch for from U.S. Women’s National Team on Wednesday

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Tom Sermanni era of United States Women’s National Team soccer is still over a month away, even if the transition period begins tomorrow. At tenuous post-Tom, pre-Pia period means the match will be like most since the U.S. won gold: rich on star power but light on relevance.

A continuation of the States’ prolonged post-Olympic celebration tour, Wednesday’s match against the Republic of Ireland comes two-and-a-half years before the team’s next major competition. It also features an opponent that’s ranked 34th in the world (10 spots below Mexico) that never threatened to get out of their group in Euro 2013 qualifying. If last month’s matches against Germany were overlooked, Wednesday’s may barely be noticed.

The level of competition is a reminder of context. This is a celebration tour. The team’s not preparing for anything; rather, they’re taking this opportunity to leverage a successful Olympic campaign, selling a few tickets in the process.

The most important part of this year-ending, five-match stretch (two against Ireland, three against China) will be a veteran auditioning for their new coach. Even though Jillian Ellis will continue running the team, every player knows Tom Sermanni will be watching. How the team performs in this pre-tryout period will be the main reason to follow the next three weeks worth of games.

Here are some areas to watch, though for a team that’s gone 23-1-3 this year, they’re all relative concerns:

source: AP1. When will the Serrmani effect be felt?

The question is actually assumptive, on three levels. It presumes a new coach (a) who has still not officially taken over will (a) have an effect and (b) that effect’s impact is a matter of when, not if. It’s possible the 58-year-old Scot’s main influence will be on continuity – forcing a bridge between a highly successful Sundhage regime and his own. If that happens, we won’t be able to detect Sermanni’s influence.

Although there were small stylistic differences in how Sermanni’s Australia teams played, the approach was largely the same as a U.S. side that’s aspired to a more possession-sensitive approach in the wake of Germany 2011. When he arrives, Sermanni (right), who has already spoken positively about his new team’s technical qualities (hinting they may be underrated), will help this progression, though we’re unlikely to see much difference in the interim.

Still, as a Portland crowd who have been waiting for Caleb Porter know, an absentee coach’s effects can still be felt. If you see this U.S. team show a sudden disinclination toward playing long out of the back, credit Tom Sermanni.

MORE: More detail on the U.S.’s new head coach

source: AP2. Is the defense improving?

National team diehards have long expressed concerns about the team’s defending, with seven goals allowed in six World Cup matches underscoring the team’s problems against top competition. Those problems appeared on the wane when the U.S. gave up only three goals in this year’s first 10 games, but as the Olympic semifinal against Canada showed, the U.S. have to outgun too many teams. Over their last seven games, the U.S. have given up 10 goals.

A lot of that was Pia Sundhage’s willingness to play open games. With a new coach coming in, the defense may need to prove it can lock down opponents.

Christie Rampone (right), the team’s 37-year-old captain, appears to be sticking around to anchor the defense. She’s still among the best players in the world at her position, though the spot to her left – often occupied by Rachel Buehler – needs to be firmed up. That could be done by restoring Buehler’s confidence, though fan favorite Becky Sauerbrunn, who possesses the ball skills to help the U.S.’s stylistic shift, should be considered.

source: Getty Images3. [Obligatory concern about the midfield here]

The States have a lot of depth in attack and on the wings, but in midfield, they’re sorely lacking for choice. Shannon Boxx, Lauren Cheney (right), and Carli Lloyd are Sermanni’s — uh, Ellis’s — current options, with Cheney and Lloyd the likely pairing as the team approaches Canada 2015. Cheney’s positional versatility and Lloyd’s flare for the dramatic make it a capable pair, but against teams like France, Germany, and Japan, the lack of speed, variety, and ball-winning leave the U.S. at a disadvantage.

In Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, Sermanni has wide players capable of playing attacking midfield positions, but it’s unclear whether that role would conflict with Abby Wambach, who (with the emergence of Alex Morgan) spends more time occupying that space, waiting for play to come to her feet.

The other idea would be to restore Sauerbrunn to the midfield, a role she playing in college. At the base of a triangle with Cheney and Lloyd, Sauerbrunn would allow the two more attacked-minded midfielders to venture forward without exposing the defense. Her skill on the ball can act as a fulcrum when the States have established their attack, while her time as a defender make her the best choice to protect (and possibly solve the problems of) a vulnerable defense.

Conceivably carrying many of the qualities of a player like Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, Sauerbrunn’s a potential response to the midfield strength of the U.S.’s main rivals (Germany, France, Japan). While some have envisioned a similar role for Lauren Cheney, moving Sauerbrunn into midfield would allow one of the States’ goal scoring threats to stay higher up the field.

MORE: Coach Sermanni’s to-do list ahead of Canada 2015

source: Getty Images4. Is Heath really a wide player?

For most of her career at North Carolina, Heath played left midfield for teams that won three national titles, a position that allowed her to take on defenders with her elite one-on-one skills. Three years after playing her last game at Chapel Hill, Heath has started to establish herself in the same position with the national team, though with mixed results.

She still shows the ability to break down a defender one-on-one, but against a higher level of competition, it happens less often. When she does beat her mark, her opposition’s increased athleticism means quicker recovery. Even when Heath’s skills prove a plus, they aren’t enough of an advantage to justify forgoing opportunities to work through Wambach and Morgan, particularly since Heath’s yet to prove a strong crosser of the ball.

Her skill, however, is undeniable, and it’s not difficult to imagine her passing, vision, and quickness being effective in the middle, given the right teammates around her. In the middle, her shot from 18-24 yards can be a real weapon. It all begs a question Serrmani must eventually answer: Is Heath a wide player – somebody who should be taking time away from Heather O’Reilly – or somebody who can help a thin midfield? Her latest audition begins Wednesday.

source: Getty Images5. Is Portland ready for the new big time?

When U.S. Soccer announced the new women’s professional league last week, president Sunil Gulati noted that for the time there would be a direct link between Major League Soccer and one of the top-flight women’s teams. The Paulson family, backers of MLS’s Portland Timbers, had signed on to support a women’s team, one that will likely make Jeld-Wen Field its home.

It’s tempting to see Wednesday night’s game as a test of women’s soccer in Portland, but for a number of reasons, we’re unlikely to see the amped atmosphere that accompanies Timbers games. As of Monday, thanks to little citywide buzz and a $38 entry-level ticket price, only 8,600 tickets had been sold for Wednesday’s match, a number trailing ticket sales for upcoming games in Phoenix, Detroit, and Houston. Add in the late weekday start and the bite of a fall northwest night, and the game won’t threaten Jeld-Wen’s 20,438 capacity.

Perversely, all those circumstances could make Wednesday’s match a good litmus test for women’s professional soccer in Portland. Even though the new team won’t be playing in late fall, there are a number of other obstacles it will have to overcome. Creating buzz will always be a problem (especially in a city that’s fallen for its MLS product), but ticket prices will be much more reasonable.

Given the circumstances that are keeping many away, getting a crowd of over 10,000 for Wednesday’s game against Ireland would be a great sign for the new professional team, especially if two or three of the night’s stars are playing for Portland come March.

England: Telegraph alleges Redknapp knew of players betting on matches

AMMAN, JORDAN- MARCH 22: Jordan's latest manager Harry Redknapp speaks during a joint press conference with the president of the Jordan Football Association, Prince Ali Bin Al Hueesin ahead their World Cup qualifiers on March 22, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. Redknapp, the former Tottenham manager has signed a two-game deal to take charge of Jordan's 2018 qualifying matches against Bangladesh on Thursday and Australia next week. (Photo by Jordan Pix/ Getty Images)
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In the wake of Sam Allardyce‘s firing from his post as England manager, the fallout continues to be immense.

[ MORE: Everton, Palace finish scoreless at Goodison Park ]

English media outlet The Telegraph released several details regarding Allardyce’s role in bribery and corruption that could be widespread amongst the English football community.

On Friday, the Telegraph again released information pertaining to another high-profile English manager, however, this time it’s Harry Redknapp that reportedly knew of illegal goings-on when he was managing in the Premier League.

The newspaper alleges that the 69-year-old was aware of his own players betting on matches, including those that they were involved in. Friday’s report reveals undercover journalists filming a conversation between Redknapp and agent Dax Price, as the two men discuss one match in particular that the players had told Price could be very profitable for him given the favorable odds.

From the Telegraph:

“[Player A from Redknapp’s team] phoned me and said remortgage your house ’cause the odds were mental, they were 5/2 at the time,” Price said.

“All my family lumped on, we lumped on, I phoned him after 15 minutes because you had put, you put a good, you put a great side out as well, you put the best side out, and, um, I spoke to [opposition player], he was sitting in the stand… and he went, ‘[Redknapp’s side] ain’t touched the ball yet, first 15 minutes’, and the game ended up [with Redknapp’s side winning].”

Under FA laws, Redknapp would have needed to notify the governing body regarding his players’ actions.

While the Telegraph has left out specific details in the investigation, including teams, player names and particular matches, the FA has reportedly asked that the newspaper hand over all of its information as the England’s football federation looks into the various allegations brought up by the outlet.

In addition to Redknapp’s reported knowledge of his players placing bets, the Englishman was also recorded in discussing third-party ownership of players, which is illegal under both FIFA and FA laws.

“Yeah, absolutely, any way I could help, you know,” Redknapp replied. “Listen I put my money where my mouth is and all you know, if you, if you’re gonna buy players, now, if I’m involved in picking the players then I don’t mind having an investment and having a little bit of a, you know, not a thing obviously but you know, I’d put a few quid in and take a chance with you. I need something to do with my money as well, don’t I? Can’t be fairer than that can you?”

 

 

Everton 1-1 Crystal Palace: Benteke finish keeps Eagles unbeaten in last five

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30:  Yannick Bolasie of Everton takes on Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Everton and Crystal Palace at Goodison Park on September 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Both clubs came into Friday’s meeting with a lot to play for, but finishes on both sides of halftime forced Everton and Crystal Palace to settle for a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Liverpool looks to remain hot on Saturday vs. Swansea ]

The visitors pulled level just five minutes after the halftime whistle as Christian Benteke rose to meet Joel Ward’s cross. The summer signing did well to generate enough power to nod the ball towards the far post, but Palace nearly took the lead just minutes later.

[ MORE: Chelsea travels to Hull as both clubs look to halt poor form ]

Ward was at it again down the right flank in the 56th minute, when he played in a perfect cross to Damien Delaney. Despite another timely header and finish, the goal was called back for offsides, keeping the two teams level once more.

Romelu Lukaku‘s first PL free kick goal gave the hosts a thrilling lead before halftime as the Belgian striker put Everton ahead in the 35th minute.

Palace wasn’t too thrilled with the decision to award the set piece after the half hour had gone, but Damien Delaney was the man called for the foul on Phil Jagielka just outside of the penalty area.

The Toffees move up to third place in the PL with Friday’s result, while Palace remain seventh on 11 points.

Watch: Palace levels match behind Benteke header

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It’s a battle of Belgian strikers at Goodison Park, and we’ve got an entertaining second half on our hands.

[ Watch: Lukaku’s free kick gives Everton halftime lead ]

Watch the video above, as Christian Benteke equalized for Crystal Palace in the 50th minute, building up enough power on his header to get the visitors onto the scoreboard.

Following Joel Ward’s superb in-swinging cross from the right wing, the 25-year-old Belgian leapt to meet the ball and powered it into the far corner past Maarten Stekelenburg.

Premier League preview: Hull City vs. Chelsea

HULL, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea (10) celebrates with Nemanja Matic (21) as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KC Stadium on March 22, 2015 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Hull has only won four matches vs. Chelsea (4-10-30)
  • Tigers have allowed nine goals in previous two PL matches
  • Chelsea looking to rebound following Arsenal blowout
  • Costa remains tied for league lead with five goals

Both Hull City and Chelsea come into the weekend on a poor run of form, giving both clubs plenty of incentive to push for a result.

The Tigers play host to Chelsea at the KC Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

Following a pair of impressive victories to open the Premier League season, Hull has come back down to earth as of late, losing three of its last five matches in all competitions. With nine goals allowed in its last two PL matches (losses to Liverpool and Arsenal), Chelsea enters the fray with another dangerous attack that the Tigers will have to be wary of.

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea have ironically enough seen their form dip at the hands of the Reds and Gunners, respectively, as well. Last Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium wasn’t ideal for a Blues side that expects to be amongst the top four at season’s end.

Meanwhile, Diego Costa will have to continue to find the back of the net for Chelsea on a regular basis, after netting five times in the club’s first six league matches. The Spaniard has accounted for half of the squad’s offensive output, making the 27-year-old vital up front along with the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian.

INJURIES: Hull — OUT: Alex Bruce (achilles), Allan McGregor (back), Moses Odubajo (knee), Michael Dawson (knee), Brian Lenihan (knee surgery) | Chelsea — OUT: John Terry (ankle), Kurt Zouma (fitness)

What they’re saying

Hull City manager Mike Phelan: “What needs to be resolved is the terms of the deal. It keeps changing. One minute I think I’ve got something and the club are happy with it and the next minute it changes. So it’s just a case of thinking about all these new changes that are on the table and making a decision.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “It’s important not to forget the past, because the past is very clear. We finished 10th last season and that means there were problems. We don’t have a magic wand to change the situation in a few months. We must work hard together and we are doing this. We must understand that only through hard work can we close the gap.”

Prediction

The Blues have struggled to play complete matches for much of the season, and this road fixture won’t make things easy for Conte and co. That said, Chelsea will surely be motivated to come out and give a strong performance following last week’s debacle against Arsenal. Hull 1-3 Chelsea